Sales taxes down across parish: Franklinton, Varnado see slight increases

Published 7:23 am Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Jamie Butts recently announced the new quarterly sales tax figures for the parish, and although the news was mostly negative, she had some reasons for optimism.

Butts is the sales auditor for the Washington Parish Sheriff’s Office and Tuesday at the quarterly sales tax commission meeting announced that across the parish sales tax collections are down 7.79 percent against last year’s income. Most of this is due to mill collections, and a drop in natural gas transportation and support for oil and gas operations. Not all sales are down, however. Butts reported increases in general consumer goods (up 20 percent) and car parts and repair sales are up.

However, those gains were not enough to thwart a general downward trend, and in Bogalusa, sales tax is down 14.28 percent for the quarter.

Butts reported that Franklinton’s and Varnado’s sales tax returns are both up, with Varnado almost 8 percent higher than a year ago and Franklinton 0.87 percent higher.

The Bogalusa City Schools’ taxes are also down 8.09 percent from last year, the parish schools are down 5.67 percent, the parish government is down 6.46 percent and the sheriff’s office is down 9.47 percent. Angie is down 2.39 percent.

Butts said Franklinton’s higher sales tax returns reflect new development in that town. This spring, a new Taco Bell opened and, next to that, a new shopping center featuring a Hibbett Sports store and a Dollar Tree all opened their doors.

“The Hibbett’s and the Dollar Tree have exceeded their budgets and the Dollar Tree is doing better than the Bogalusa Dollar Tree and Hibbett’s is doing three times their

expected budget,” Butts said.

Meanwhile, Butts explained, the paper mill in Bogalusa is not paying the same amount of use tax as it had been paying the prior two years and that accounts for the drop in sales tax revenue.

“I thought they were going to get better after speaking with Steve Loveless at the paper mill, but their collections have continued to go down,” Butts said. “They’re down 43 percent for the quarter compared to the last quarter.”

Butts also said the parish has sent notice to the mill that they will be audited. The audit is routine and Butts said it is not in response to anything in particular, but due to the fact that the mill hasn’t been audited recently.

“We recently, within the last month, sent out an audit notice to them so they’ll be audited within the current tax year,” said Butts.

Audits can sometimes discover reporting errors, bringing in extra tax money. After a convenience store in the parish was found to be out of compliance, Butts said her office requested audits over every gas station and convenience store in the parish and 22 have been found to owe taxes to the parish or cities — including Bogalusa. However, Butts said the exact amount is still being figured, so she couldn’t say what kind of a difference that revenue could make, or even when it would be paid.

However, Butts said she has heard the box plant might get upgraded in the near future and that could bring in revenue.

Butts said all Dollar General stores will be audited, too.

Dollar General is going to start selling beer and wine in its stores, and Butts said that could be good news for sales tax returns if it brings in shoppers from St. Tammany or Mississippi. However, it may just cannibalize sales from other stores and make no difference at all.

Butts also noted that not every Dollar General will sell beer and wine, because some communities, like Angie, Richardson and Mt. Hermon, are dry communities.

Butts also said Bogalusa’s sales tax is hurting because the Salvage Store has been closed since March due to flood damage. However, Butts said the old Walmart building on Cumberland Street is being developed for new tenants.

“I have heard that Dirt Cheap is going in the old Walmart space,” she said.

Chief Deputy Mike Haley, who was also present at the meeting, said Dirt Cheap would take half the space. Butts said the Salvage Store is looking to open again in Bogalusa, and she said maybe that business would move into the other half of the building.

Butts also said she has heard the International Paper is looking to make some improvements at the box plant, so it is possible the use tax will improve, though she couldn’t say when that might be.

The sales tax figures include data up to August, so the Bogalusa Blues and Heritage Festival’s impact is not yet known. However, Butts said she doesn’t expect the vendors to have any impact because they have not had any impact in the past. Butts said this is because many do not accurately report their sales and therefore pay little to no tax on what they earn.

The grim economic news stands in contrast to the state’s collections. State Treasurer John Kennedy released the state’s sales tax report on Tuesday and he reports that across the state, sales tax revenue is 35 percent higher than last year. This could be due to increased buying after widespread flooding, though Bogalusa seems to have not had much of a boost after March floods.

Butts also provided a copy of the summer edition of Southeastern Louisiana University’s Economic Reporter. Though the regional economic publication did not include the most recent economic figures, it did show that, as of March, Washington Parish has seen the worst sales tax returns of any parish on the north shore. As of March, the Economic Reporter puts Washington Parish down 18.6 percent in sales tax.